For 3 years, it ran in the Greeley Tribune. Since then, it has run in various subsidiaries of the Douglas County News Press. I still have most of my columns in digital format.
For many years, I only gave myself one rule: try to work the word "library" into every piece. My intent was to think in public about just what librarianship means at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st.
There have been many advantages for me. I found that putting library plans out in front of the public, and getting feedback about them, helped me make better decisions. Sometimes, I found that it was very difficult for me to describe those plans or policies -- the kind of thing that makes me realize that they might not be good ideas after all. The weekly discipline of explaining my profession to the public keeps me more mindful, more honest. It also has provided steady visibility for the library and its issues.
January 4, 2001 - Cooperating for the Greater Good
Almost a year ago I attended a 7 day leadership training program, offered by the University of Colorado-Denver. During that time, we did a group exercise that really stuck with me.
First, our group of about 50 was divided in two. We got different rooms. Then we got a sheet of complex instructions.
The object was for the two groups to get as many points as possible. We were told that we could offer, through ten rounds, a single letter (A, B, C, D, or E) to the other team. They, in turn, could offer a single letter to us.
This offering was done by means of a go between, who for the first several rounds, could do nothing more than say, "A" (or one of the other letters). The other team also had a go between, who then gave the other team's letter.
Then the instruction sheet listed various letter combinations. "AA" meant that both teams earned 2 points. AB meant that the team offering A got 3 points, and the team offering B lost 1 point. Some combinations penalized both teams. Some favored one heavily, but injured the other by varying amounts.
As we sat pondering that, one bright participant pointed out that there was only one combination that gave maximum points to both sides. Let's say it was DD.
Well, after puzzling that out, we decided to offer the D. Our emissary returned with good news -- the other team had offered a D as well. We both got 4 points.
This repeated for another two rounds.
Then the rules changed. For round four, the emissaries could also ask each other a question. We sent out the key question: are you playing by the same rules? The answer came back: they were.
Now things began to get interesting. My team got, well, frisky. "Let's zing 'em!" We could rack up more points. Of course, the other team would lose points. And so, I pointed out, under the instructions, together we would get less than an optimal score. Ultimately, it wasn't us against them. It was us cooperating with them to get the best possible result.
"Aw, c'mon," urged some of us. I pointed out that if we'd zing them, they'd zing us, and then the whole game would quickly fall apart into unpredictability and payback.
Finally, I asked if we could change the rules again. When next we sent our emissary out, we would offer, all at once, a "D" for all the remaining rounds, pointing out that it was the only possible way to meet the objective. It took some persuading, but I got our team to go along with it.
Result? The other team accepted our deal (although just barely, as we learned later). And our combined team, the class of 1999, concluded the game with the highest score -- and the quickest conclusion -- of any team in UCD's history.
In the discussion afterward, we realized a few things. In the real world, it's not always as easy to articulate a "best combination" for cooperative strategies. Two people vying for "points" -- as in a real estate transaction -- are, quite commonly, trying to best each other. For some, the temptation to pull a fast one is irresistible.
But there's another difference between our exercise and the Real World. In real life, there's always an eleventh round.
When someone works cooperatively with you, and you both do well, you're inclined to deal together again. When one person proves too greedy, you remember that. And your next dealings together are far more cutthroat, and far less predictable.
I learned that in my world -- the modest dealings of librarianship -- the cooperative strategy is always the smartest. I tell people just what we're after and what we can afford. Almost all the time, people offer us very reasonable exchanges. On those rare occasions when someone has ripped us off, I remember that, and I tell everybody I know about it. I know a lot of people.
As a result, we have built up a remarkably strong stable of highly reliable vendors and community partners. The ones that don't do well by us, we don't deal with again.
So remember: nice guys don't have to finish last. When you're dealing with the public sector, the winning combination makes everybody look good.
And isn't that the way the game OUGHT to be played?